This is, quite literally, your father’s SNL, kids.
Last seen in Studio 8H in the spring of 1992, appearing in anticipation of the season finale of Cheers, Woody Harrelson has finally returned, as a kind of benign, stoner daddy, hosting a mostly reassuring and wholly perfunctory episode of the graying sketch comedy juggernaut. Sure there were a few laughs, but few surprises, and no delight. Saturday Night Live is a corny dad joke now.
You may be wondering, why is Woody Harrelson hosting SNL? Was Bruce Willis booked? Well, the prevailing theory is… with the holiday season’s biggest tent pole movie upon us, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1, Woody Harrelson (who wears a wig in that film) is at least a reasonably plausible host for Saturday Night Live.
“But!” you insist, “Doesn’t that cast also include Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, and Julianne Moore? Wouldn’t any of those actors make a far more plausible host than the guy who replaced “Coach” on Cheers?
“You remember Coach... Nicholas Colasanto?” your father asks, impressed.
SNL at 40 seems more than a little concerned with playing it safe. True, Kendrick Lamar is a name that might be unfamiliar to most dads, but the Isley Brothers sample (“Who’s That Lady?”) that forms the base melody of his song “i,” is a company picnic classic. And as such, serves as a trigger warning for pops: “Yes, this is a rap song. But! Whatta rap song it is!”
Harrelson did a fine job as host, actually. Which is the point: low risk, low reward. The episode was a solid “C.” All “Cs.” You know, the kind of report card that would make your benign, stoner dad proud.
Woody’s best moment? “Match’d,” a game show parody where a horny bachelorette tries to pick a date from a trio of horny dudes. Only, her dad is the host. So things get kinda awkward. (“You kids act like you’d never seen a game show! You haven’t? Just shut up and watch the damn sketch.”)
Harrelson’s Opening Monologue was classic dad joke. Old (stoned) dad… attempts to stay relevant by reworking the lyrics to a Taylor Swift song (“Blank Space”) as a kind of nostalgic recap of the year 1989. But… said dad did a lot of drugs back then, so his memories are a little fuzzy. (“Just go with it, kids! And um, oh look! It’s the sexy young stars of ‘The Hunger Games!’ We’ve got a great show for you tonight!”)
Every dad worth his salt likes a good dad joke. And 40-year old SNL serves ‘em up fast and furious.
“The Dudleys,” a pre-taped send-up of a network television sitcom promo, was a rare flash of inspiration. The writing was fresh, funny, pointed (a TV show in constant flux because of erratic viewer feedback). And it featured a cameo by Orange Is the New Black’s “Crazy Eyes,” Emmy winner Uzo Aduba.
Still, the “Weekend Update” slog continues. Co-anchors Colin Jost and Michael Che seem as relieved as we all are, when a funny character crashes the once-thriving ripped-from-the-headlines joke segment.
Leslie Jones’ “Relationship Expert” falls flat this time around. “Loud” is no substitute for a genuinely amusing premise, and sharp jokes. Jones had neither. But Taram Killan picks up the slack—perhaps even saving the entire episode—with a whimsical Matthew McConaughey impression. (Two episodes this year with McConaughey tributes. When is SNL40 going to get the man himself in as host?)
“Last Call,” the episode’s final sketch, brought back Kate McKinnon’s as desperate bar fly “Sheila Sovage.” If you’re a fan of McKinnon, this is why. Kate’s best character work lives in this space: shattered people barreling through deep despair, on the crumbling edge of certifiable madness, absolutely open to whatever happens next.
Dads don’t get what’s so funny about the makeshift bravura of Kate McKinnon characters. Though one might consider her brief appearance near the end of the show its saving grace—the episode’s only mom joke.
The question for fans and friends of SNL is simple: is a straight-C report card acceptable? This goes directly to the idea of reassurance. Do you take comfort in the fact that reliable old Saturday Night Live is here for you? Week in, week out. Same show structure, same joke formats, same old reliable hosts.
Or. Are you intrigued by the possibility of something newer, fresher, more surprising at SNL?
The corny dads have weighed in. We loved the Woody Harrelson episode! The sketch where he said he missed “old New York’s” crack? Hilarious!
SNL NEXT WEEK: Cameron Diaz with Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars
Chris White writes and directs independent feature films. His latest, a showbiz comedy about looking for Bill Murray, is called
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